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Celtics prove why they’re one of the best teams in 4th quarter in win over Cavaliers 03.01.17 at 11:42 pm ET
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Mar 1, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) looks to make a pass while guarded by Boston Celtics shooting forward Jaylen Brown (7) during the fourth quarter at TD Garden.  The Boston Celtics won 103-99.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens reinserted Avery Bradley towards the end of the 4th quarter to help slow down Kyrie Irving (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)

Early Wednesday afternoon, Brad Stevens issued a plan of attack and that evening his team executed it and turned it into one of their most impressive wins of the season.

Wednesday night’s 103-99 win over the Cavaliers was a testament to how tough the Celtics can be in the fourth quarter.

Even with their best scorer not hitting shots (1-of-4), the Celtics rallied behind defensive stops by Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley instead of relying on Isaiah Thomas to keep them in the game.

Facing a two-point deficit, Smart drew back-to-back offensive fouls against the Cavaliers before Jae Crowder (17 points) drained a 3-pointer under two minutes to go. Then, it was Bradley’s turn as he rattled Kyrie Irving (28 points) and drained a 3-pointer on the other end to keep his team ahead. 

Out of a Cavaliers timeout, Cleveland set up sharp shooter Kyle Korver for an open 3-pointer before Thomas drained his only field goal of the fourth quarter. Irving responded with a reverse layup to tie the game (99-99) before Thomas drew a shooting foul and drained a pair of free-throws to put the C’s ahead, 101-99.

LeBron James (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) passed up an opportunity to tie the game by passing the ball to Deron Williams, who missed the potential game-winning 3-pointer. 

For a full box score and summary of Wednesday’s game vs. Cleveland, click here.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas
Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley returns after 18-game absence, starts vs. Hawks 02.27.17 at 6:27 pm ET
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Jan 6, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley returns after an 18-game absence with a sore Achilles. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the first time since Jan. 16, Avery Bradley will take the court for the Celtics in a game.

And coach Brad Stevens is going to see quickly if the shooting guard is really ready.

Stevens announced before Monday’s game that Bradley will start against the Hawks after missing the previous 18 games with a sore right Achilles.

Stevens did indicate that Bradley – averaging 34.9 minutes in 36 games this season – would be on a restriction of “15-to-25 minutes” this week as he returns against the Hawks, Cavaliers and Lakers. 

Bradley, who is averaging 17.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists this season, played against the Hornets on Jan. 16 but clearly wasn’t himself.

He made just 2-of-9 shots from the field (1-for-6 from long range) in 33 minutes, adding three rebounds and three assists in Boston’s 108-98 win.

Prior to that game, Bradley missed the previous four games with the Achilles injury. 

Bradley reiterated before the game what he said two weeks ago, that he was anxious to return “four weeks ago” but understood the team’s precaution. 

Bradley’s biggest impact could come in an area the Celtics need help – rebounding. His 6.9 average per game leads the team, 0.3 more than Al Horford. He is one of the more athletic No. 2 guards in the league and uses it to effectively rebound. He and Marcus Smart are two of the more physical guards in the East and it’s no coincidence that the Celtics struggled with offensive rebounding in his absence. 

That, of course, was offset by the fact that the other guard, Isaiah Thomas is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season offensively. In Bradley’s 18-game absence, the Celtics went 12-6. They are 15-7 in the last 22 games without him in the lineup. 

With Bradley starting and Stevens indicating that he doesn’t plan to alter his minutes early in the games this week, it means that rookie Jaylen Brown returns to the bench. This move deepens the bench significantly with the likes of Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart, who returned to his customary sixth-man role beginning with the Raptors game after the All-Star break. 

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics,
Isaiah Thomas on emoji madness: ‘I didn’t mean to do that to y’all’ 02.23.17 at 1:06 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Speaking to reporters at Celtics practice Thursday, guard Isaiah Thomas laughed off the controversy surrounding his eyeball and hourglass emojis, which had Celtics fans trying to discern meaning with the trade deadline rapidly approaching.

Thomas explained to reporters (including the ProJo’s Scott Souza) that he wasn’t tweeting about the trade deadline, and only realized the uproar after the fact.

“I didn’t mean to do that to y’all,” he noted mischievously.

Thomas pointed up at the basketball offices, where the curtains were drawn, and wondered if Danny Ainge and Co. were hard at work making a trade. He joked that they were busy. But he also turned serious when asked about his current team.

“I will roll with the guys inside this locker room until something changes,” he told reporters.

Asked if the Celtics believed they could catch the Cavs for the top seed in the East, he was equally confident.

“That’s the plan,” he said.

Head coach Brad Stevens told reporters that zero players were held out of practice because the trade deadline. Rookie Jaylen Brown is expected to return when the team opens the second half in Toronto on Friday. Gerald Green missed practice with a heel injury, while Avery Bradley was a limited practice participant as he attempts to return from an Achilles injury.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Celtics rumors, Isaiah Thomas, NBA Trade Deadline
How Marcus Smart has made Avery Bradley expendable at the trade deadline 02.16.17 at 10:36 am ET
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Feb 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 116-108. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) late in the game at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Danny Ainge watched this week as the Raptors made a big push to re-claim their position atop the Eastern Conference with Cleveland when they acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Magic.

But what the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations has also watch is the emergence of one of his own players into a legit force on the team that has pushed its way past Toronto in the East and sits just two games back of Cleveland in the East.

What Marcus Smart has done in the last two weeks has been eye-opening.

In Boston’s 11-1 run to second place in the East and first in the Atlantic Division, Smart is averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 assists, four rebounds and an eye-popping 2.3 steals a game. Of course, that last number got a huge bump Wednesday night with eight swipes against the Sixers in a 116-108 win at TD Garden.

A 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio is considered good, and that’s exactly what Smart is averaging in the 12-game run, with 2.7 turnovers per game. But throw in his steals and it’s nearly 3-to-1. That’s sensational. Consider that the OPS-plus of basketball.

“I’ve been really trying to elevate my game especially going into the second half trying to keep the momentum alive,” Smart said after Wednesday’s win. “I can honestly say this is the most comfortable I have been in a Celtic uniform. It feels good, not only for myself but to be able to contribute to this team in other ways. It’s definitely something I will continue to try and keep doing.”

If there was a singular play that defines Smart’s play over the last two weeks it was his jumping on Nik Stauskas when Stauskas lost his dribble 20 feet from the basket with three minutes left and the Celtics up, 106-101. He seized the opportunity to grab the ball, which he did for his seventh steal, and fed Jae Crowder for the game-sealing lay-up.

“I saw the ball and went after the ball,” Smart said. “He just happened to be in the way of it.”

“I thought Smart was fantastic. I thought Smart has really strung a bunch of games together here. Made big shots, made timely shots, but then defensively was terrific,” Brad Stevens said. “I think the last couple of weeks have been some of his best basketball. And we needed it. We’re down a couple of bodies and he is playing at a high level on both ends of the floor.

“I think the ankle sprain at the start of the year was kind of an unfortunate kick-off to the year; it set you back a little bit. And then in the last few weeks I just think, like, he’s really found a rhythm and a groove. And it started on the defensive end with guarding at a really high level. I think he’s guarding even better than he did at the start of the year and he’s been good. We need him to, again. We’re down Jaylen (Brown) and down Avery, you’ve got to have those perimeter defenders step up for you.”

With Isaiah Thomas setting all sorts of new franchise scoring marks (now averaging 29.8 points for the season), it would be easy to overlook Smart. But Smart’s efforts in the last week have been the backbone behind Thomas’ sensational season. With Smart locking opponents down defensively, Thomas has been freed up a bit to focus mainly on making sure the Celtics keep scoring at a frenetic pace.

Ainge has a decision to make. Does he want to make a deal in the days leading up to the Feb. 23 deadline to give the Celtics a better chance at making a run at Cleveland? What pieces on his current roster could help him make such a deal? Forgetting, for a moment, the first-round picks the Celtics have in their draft bank, there likely would have to be some legitimate talent swapping places.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown out through break, Brad Stevens makes Al Horford All-Star argument 02.15.17 at 7:50 pm ET
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Avery Bradley really wants to get back to playing.

But the Celtics want him 100 percent when the games really matter in April and May.

To that end, Bradley understands the Celtics being ultra-cautious with his sore right Achilles, which is just about fully healed.

That injury forced him to miss his 15th straight game Wednesday and will keep him out as well on Thursday night in Chicago. Bradley has played just once since Jan. 6.

“It’s frustrating,” Bradley said before Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia. “I guess it’s just part of the game and part of being smart. I want to play and play through it but the team advised me that this is not the time to take that risk right now and something potentially happen to my Achilles or a different injury.”

Bradley and the team are not just protecting against the existing injury but trying to make sure he doesn’t compensate unconsciously and injure something else.

“It was just a decision to make together and we felt like it’s the best one,” Bradley continued. “It’s feeling really good.”

But Bradley admitted he hasn’t worked on the court much lately and getting back in basketball shape will be key.

“I really haven’t done much,” he said. “I’ve been doing more conditioning and strengthening, upper body and lower body, just making sure I’m strong enough for when I do return. Now, we’re getting the basketball stuff in, so I’m hoping over the All-Star [break], I can play some basketball and be ready for the first game.”

Brad Stevens sounded much more cautious when asked about Bradley and Jaylen Brown (hip).

“Both guys are out for the next two games with the hope of doing some practice when we return,” Stevens said.

After Thursday’s game in Chicago, the Celtics are off for eight days, resuming their schedule in Toronto on Feb. 24 against the Serge Ibaka-revitalized Raptors.

All-Star push: Brad Stevens suddenly has an open roster spot on his Eastern Conference squad Sunday in New Orleans. Kevin Love is out at least six weeks with impending knee surgery. Stevens has no say in Love’s replacement but he has a natural suggestion should anyone ask.

Al Horford may not be putting up huge numbers (14.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.0 APG) but they are first, second and second respectively on a team that is just two games out of first place in the East. Expectations have been as big as Horford’s four-year, $113 million contract. But according to his coach, he’s been a big part of why the Celtics have risen to the top in the East.

“I always base my decision on who is really impacting winning, and I think that’s why Al would be a good choice,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “I’m hopeful Al gets that call. It’s not our call. But there’s a lot of good players in this league. It doesn’t take anything away from anybody else. We certainly hope Al gets that call.”

If Stevens was being somewhat (understandably) understated in his praise of Horford, Sixers coach Brett Brown was not. He also said the Celtics have risen to the top but went even further in his praise of the man once coached by Brett Brown’s good friend Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. Brown and Budenholzer coached together under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. 

“You can’t even put a price tag on that. He was coached by a close friend of mine in Atlanta for a while,” Brown said of Horford’s days in Atlanta. “If you just go to the person, there’s a veteran class and there’s an elite mind, basketball mind, and then you can start talking about his actual game. So, what he does to a locker room, what he does from experience perspective and you take the unusual skill package in that he can bring you out and stretch the court.

“Even when you study the last time that we played here, Joel [Embiid] gets sucked in on a drive and they kick it to Al in the corner for a three, that’s an unusual match-up for a 7-foot-2 center. I think that Brad does a really good job, creative job on using Olynyk and Horford, especially, with how they can stretch the floor, and Amir [Johnson], letting Amir shoot corner threes. Kind of all over the place, off-the-court locker room stuff, I think it’s just a sensational acquisition and piece that they have made to legitimately look at them now as one of the elite teams in the East. It’s a wonderful building block, for sure.” 

The Celtics are 7-5 without Horford in the lineup this season.

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Read More: Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Kevin Love
Avery Bradley (Achilles) ruled out for Saturday’s game against Trail Blazers 01.20.17 at 2:08 pm ET
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The Celtics will have to again find a way to win without their second-highest scorer, as Avery Bradley will miss Saturday’s game against the Trail Blazers, per reports.

Said coach Brad Stevens, “The Achilles is structurally fine, but he has a lot of soreness around it. That’s one of those things you have to be ultra-careful with.”

With Bradley’s absence on Saturday, he will have missed four out of five games with the injury. He was slated to play, and start, in Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks, but was a late scratch and missed the game.

He had played 33 minutes in Monday’s win over the Hornets, scoring five points. The 26-year-old is averaging 17.7 points per game in 34.9 minutes in 36 appearances, all starts.

Another pair of injured Celtics, Tyler Zeller (sinus infection) and James Young (ankle), both practiced on Friday.

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Avery Bradley could end up ‘missing a little bit more time’ with achilles soreness 01.18.17 at 10:55 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

Mere minutes prior to tipoff in the Celtics’ 117-106 loss to the Knicks on Wednesday, they discovered they would be without guard Avery Bradley.

Bradley, initially scheduled to start, was scratched after some soreness in his right achilles tendon. He missed four games leading up to Monday’s matchup against the Hornets with the injury, but played 33 minutes in that game and five points in the win. However warmups on Wednesday proved to be too much.

“He was really sore, went through our walk-through and then came out to the court and did some stuff, and was more sore today than he has been,” said head coach Brad Stevens, noting that Bradley did treatment the whole game.

In the interest of caution, Wednesday may not be the only time Bradley misses.

“I can see him missing a little bit more time. I think maybe he came back a little too early, whatever the case may be. But he was more sore today. But nothing structurally bad. Just still a pulled achilles,” said Stevens.

It was also a surprise for teammates, as Al Horford didn’t even notice Bradley’s absence until warmups.

Said Horford, “Literally when we were out there in warmups I didn’t see Avery. I didn’t realize he wasn’t going to play.”

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